Why the Fate of Hong Kong's Protests Will Come Down to Beijing

Jul 30, 2019 | 10:00 GMT

A burning cart is seen during a demonstration in the area of Sheung Wan on July 28, 2019, in Hong Kong.

A burning cart is seen during a demonstration in the area of Sheung Wan on July 28, 2019, in Hong Kong. The final arbiter over Hong Kong's protests is looming to the west, in mainland China.

(H.C. KWOK/Getty Images)


  • The size, frequency and duration of street demonstrations alone do not determine the success of a protest movement.
  • Major cracks are beginning to form among Hong Kong's "pillars of power" — the major stakeholders in any society as identified by the social scientist Gene Sharp — suggesting that protesters could make greater headway.
  • One critical stakeholder, Hong Kong's business community, will ultimately support the force that will bring more stability to the territory.
  • But even if protesters succeed in eroding support for the government, Beijing will step in as the ultimate backstop so as to preserve Hong Kong's status within the People's Republic of China.

On the surface, Hong Kong's protests center on the extradition bill and the current government that sought to pass it. But the underlying issues are much more deeply seated in Hong Kong's status as a unique autonomous region of China, sensitivities among both Hong Kongers and Beijing about territorial integrity in the respective jurisdictions and, ultimately, the special jurisdiction's place within the People's Republic of China. Hong Kong's protests have not been nearly as violent as those in Sudan, where over 200 died in the uprising, nor as peaceful as those in Algeria, where police rarely engaged in violent clashes with protesters. They've also been much larger than those in Puerto Rico, where a few thousand protesters managed to force the governor from power with just a handful of rallies. The disparity in the nature of all of these protests and their outcome begs a more comprehensive analysis of the...

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